Stanisław Barańczak Biography


(European Poets and Poetry)

Stanisaw Baraczak was born in 1946 in Pozna, where he remained as a student, studying Polish at Adam Mickiewicz University. His first collection of poetry, Koretka twarzy (proofreading the face), appeared in 1968, as Baraczak was pursuing his master’s degree. Once he gained the degree in 1969, he began teaching Polish literature at the university; in 1974, after receiving his Ph.D., he was elevated to the position of assistant professor.

Baraczak’s activity as a poet, editor, and critic were complemented by his leadership in political movements of the time, though he never separated the two impulses in his work and intellectual development. Cavanagh notes that its “fusion of poetry and politics . . . was the hallmark” of his generation of Polish poets, known as the New Wave or Generation of ’68. The latter title refers to the riots in March of 1968, as students protested the suppression of a performance of Dziady (parts 2, 4, 1823, and 3, 1832; Forefathers’ Eve, parts 2, 4, 1925, and 3, 1944-1946), a classic verse drama by the Polish national poet, Adam Mickiewicz. In 1976, Baraczak was instrumental in editing unauthorized literary journals such as Zapis and, in 1980, became a founding member of KOR (the Committee for the Defense of Workers), a group that solidified the connections between workers and intellectuals and would be instrumental in the foundation of the Polish trade union Solidarity.

These political activities led to the official blacklisting of Baraczak’s works and, in 1977, the loss of his teaching position. During this period, Baraczak was unable to publish his writing through official channels, though some collections of his translations into Polish appeared in domestic publication; instead, he published in underground (samizdat) editions and through Polish émigré publishers, notably in France.

Though Baraczak’s position at Adam Mickiewicz University was reinstated in 1980, largely because of the political impact of the Solidarity movement, he immigrated to the United States in 1981 to take a position at Harvard University, where he ultimately became the Alfred Jurzykowski Professor of Polish Language and Literature.

After his departure from Poland, Baraczak’s translations from English to Polish and vice versa proliferated at a remarkable rate. He has translated into Polish the works of poets as diverse as William Shakespeare, the English Metaphysicals, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and Seamus Heaney; in addition, he has translated into English and anthologized the works of Polish poets such as Jan Kochanowski, Szymborska, and various postwar poets.